What does the shift to the right in Portugal portend?

In Portugal's snap parliamentary elections this weekend, the centre-right Aliança Democrática (AD) has won a narrow victory against the Socialists (PS), who have been in power in Portugal since 2015. However, the AD has fallen short of a parliamentary majority after the right-wing populist Chega party more than doubled its share of the vote to 18 percent and quadrupled its seats in parliament. The European press is concerned by Chega's success.

Open/close all quotes
El País (ES) /

In a jam

The Chega party is in a dangerously powerful position, El País explains:

“Luís Montenegro is in a jam. Taken together, all his MPs and those from the Iniciativa Liberal, which is willing to support him, are still a long way off from an absolute majority. They wouldn't be able to pass a budget, and this same problem has brought down governments in the past. The 2022 elections were the result of the Socialists' inability to get their budget through. ... The acid test will come in autumn, when the government has to present its budget proposal for 2025. ... It will be held hostage by Chega, which will wield the power to end the legislature period early and trigger new elections.”

Tvnet (LV) /

The far right is a magnet for the disaffected

Tvnet sees Portugal is following the European trend:

“Overall, the elections in Portugal are further proof of a broader loss of socialist influence in Europe. In only four of the 27 EU member states are the socialists still leading the government. ... Until 2020, the main topics of the far-right political forces and populists were the rejection of immigration and the European Union. ... Now their opposition is more loudly directed against sexual minorities and policies to combat climate change, and war is on the daily agenda. Far-right ideology has become a major magnet for the disaffected masses who are suffering the effects of inflation and the rising cost of living.”

Tageblatt (LU) /

The downsides of economic growth

For the Tageblatt the Socialists' loss of votes can only be explained at second glance:

“Portugal has experienced a substantial upturn in recent years. The Socialists' record is impressive: growing exports, an upturn in domestic economic activity and rising wages. However, as is so often the case, this growth has its downsides: for example, the property sector has spiralled out of control, leading to a crisis on the housing market. Although the government has increased the minimum wage, many Portuguese are having trouble making ends meet. But instead of shifting further to the left, many voters have shifted to the right.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Opposition the best option for socialists

The Irish Times explains how the left should position itself after the election rout:

“The new socialist leader, Pedro Nuno Santos, has said that his party has no intention of allowing Chega to become the main voice of opposition in Portugal. It plans to take on that role itself, though it may be prepared in the short term to facilitate the formation of a minority centre-right government. Such a government may struggle to last a full term. The socialists will hope to recover their strength and credibility in opposition and to demonstrate that the dramatic surge of the far right is a result of a temporary protest rather than a lasting feature of Portuguese politics.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Stony path for election winner Montenegro

Les Echos observes:

“The worried look on the face of this imposing, pensive, uncharismatic and rather solitary man already speaks volumes about the difficulties he faces. Despite the reorganisation of public finances and robust growth, wages remain low and inflation high. Young people are leaving the country as quickly as pensioners are flooding in from abroad, and resentment about the high cost of living is growing. ... The prerequisite [for a government led by Montenegro], however, is that he succeeds in forming a majority capable of governing, and for months he has firmly rejected any alliance with the populists. It is laudable to want to close the door on troublemakers, but they have already invited themselves in.”

Público (PT) /

Chega's success is established parties' failure

Público calls on the moderate parties to carefully analyse the right-wing populists' success:

“It is no longer enough to criticise the popular appeal of simplistic answers or demagogic tirades, or the ingenuity with which real or imagined problems that 'nobody wants to talk about' are being exploited. ... From now on, the democratic forces must see the victory of the Chega party as their own defeat. Only then will they be able to reinvent themselves and prevent the rise of those who prefer conflict to compromise, who have no qualms about using lies, manipulation and deceit, and who have so far offered the country little more than the unleashing of its basest instincts.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

The end of the exception

La Repubblica laments:

“This is the end of the Portuguese exception. And also the end of the socialist miracle that was the envy of the left throughout Europe. The exception was that of a country that had avoided falling under the spell of conservative extremism - even in the most delicate moments such as the dark years of limited national sovereignty around 2011, when the 'men in black' of the EU, ECB and IMF came to apply blood-and-tear prescriptions to an economy on the brink of insolvency. ... The miracle, which lasted just under a decade, was constructed with great political skill by Socialist leader António Costa, who managed to put Portugal's economic balance sheet back in order and achieve both a balanced budget and the revitalisation of the welfare state.”

Correio da Manhã (PT) /

The voice of protest now comes from the right

It is an irony of history that exactly 50 years after the fall of the dictatorship in Portugal the far right has secured such a strong position in the country's parliament, writes Correio da Manhã:

“Chega occupies a terrain that has traditionally belonged to the parties to the left of the PS: the voice of protest, of revolt against the system, the voice of the angry, of the periphery. This is an important tribune function in democracy, which has now shifted from the far left to the right. It is ironic that 50 years after 25 April, a far-right party has almost 50 members of parliament.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Against their own interests

There is nothing logical about the strong performance of the right-wing populists here, writes writes Portugal and Spain correspondent Rainer Wandler in the taz:

“A not insignificant proportion of the electorate is voting for a far-right formation whose authoritarian, economically liberal programme goes against their own interests. Trump, Milei, Meloni, Le Pen, the AfD, Vox in Spain and now Portugal - it used to be 'First food, then morals'. Today, hate-filled ideology comes first. Feminists, LGBTIQ, environmentalists, immigrants - everyone is to blame except the real culprits: those who benefit from neoliberal policies, the winners of the ever-widening social gap. In view of such election results one can only look on in bafflement.”

Aftonbladet (SE) /

Sweden as a deterrent

Aftonbladet warns of the dangers posed by a government tolerated by the right-wing populists, as is the case in Sweden:

“In Sweden we know what the Tidö agreement [the conservative government's co-operation agreement with the right-wing SD] has meant in practice. An economy that's been run into the ground, welfare and cultural life on a starvation diet, increased repression, racism and legal uncertainty. In addition, the SD had a clause included in the agreement that prohibits the governing parties from openly criticising it. In more sensible times, today's Sweden would have served as a deterrent.”

Jornal de Notícias (PT) /

Traditional balance under threat

The clear gains made by the right-wing populist Chega party are putting Portugal's traditional party landscape to the test, writes Jornal de Notícias:

“André Ventura's party has proven that it is capable of establishing itself throughout the country. ... This won't be the end of two-party rule, but it is at least clear confirmation that a party that is now medium-sized can pose a threat to the traditional balance. ... While the viability of an AD minority government is assured for now, the key test will be the vote on the state budget. At that point, it will be more difficult for the Socialists to join hands with the right-wing government, even if part of the party might defend this strategy to prevent Chega from gaining the decisive role.”

Público (PT) /

Don't lead the country to a dead end

Público would like to see the moderate parties work together:

“A scenario of ungovernability that forces elections towards the end of the year is the best way to prove those people right who have deserted the camp of liberal democracy and prefer radical politics to tolerance, civility and the spirit of solidarity. Those who govern must understand that procrastination and neglect are even more harmful today than in the past. They must act in critical areas such as health and education. And they must recognise that there are new challenges such as immigration which can no longer be neglected as they have been until now.”